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Two pioneering and now very rare English works on education featured in a November 9 sale at Bonhams (25/20/12% buyer’s premium), the earliest of them a previously unrecorded work, or at least never offered before at auction.

True spelling

Southwark schoolmaster Richard Hodges produced several works on orthography and pronunciation and was later described by an American writer as “the Noah Webster of his time, and a man who anticipated the modern spelling of many words”.

In his 1957 study of English Pronunciation 1500-1700, EJ Dobson notes that while Hodges had, in a work of 1649 called The Plainest Directions, stated that he was shortly to publish a new one on ‘True Spelling, True Reading…’, no such book was known.

It is now. A copy of that missing book, called The Grounds of Learning; or… True Spelling, True Reading, and True Writing of English…, bound in 18th century reversed calf and, as the illustration reveals, containing a number of childish pen trials of similar date on the blanks, sold at a much higher than predicted £8000 in the Knightsbridge rooms.

Back to ‘schole’

Offered in the same sale was a 1570 first of a much more famous Tudor work on education, the ex-Bradley Martin copy of Roger Ascham’s The Scholemaster, or Plaine and Perfite Way of Teaching Children to Understand, Write and Speak the Latin Tongue…

Ascham, renowned for his beautiful handwriting, was appointed tutor to Princess Elizabeth in 1548, Latin secretary to Queen Mary in 1553 and private tutor to Elizabeth once more in the year of her accession, 1558.

The Scholemaster… had been written at the suggestion of Sir Richard Sackville following a dinner debate with Sir William Cecil and others on the question of flogging children as an aid to learning, a practice which Ascham had vehemently opposed.

Ascham died in 1568, at which news Elizabeth exclaimed that she ”would rather have cast £10,000 into the sea than lose her Ascham”, but it was another two years before his widow managed to get The Scholemaster… published.

Printed in black letter and with some headlines shaved when it was rebound in polished calf in the 18th century, this copy was sold at £62 by Sotheby’s in 1946. Then in 1990, at one of the auction house’s New York sales of the Bradley Martin library, it brought a bid of $11,000 (then £6710).

This time, at Bonhams, the price was a mid-estimate £9500 – beating a record set at £7000 at Sotheby’s in 2008 for the copy of Ascham’s book in the Macclesfield Library.